Production Tips & Techniques
Remote controllers such as the Alesis BRC for ADAT are much easier to use if mounted on a roll-around stand, but these can cost an absolute fortune. My solution was to adapt an old office chair by removing the back support and seat and to replace them by a simple wooden cradle as shown in Figure 1. The BRC's own rubber feet sit inside the cradle ensuring that it doesn't slide out, and because office chairs are height adjustable, the stand can be set to any desired working position.
I've also built similar stands to support Fostex 16-track tape machines in the past, and for smaller machines such as the R8, the trolley-mounted tape machine is little larger than a remote controller anyway.
Inexpensive office chairs are available from stores such as MFI, but a more economical approach is to hang around a few car boot sales — you might even find a remote control to fit it!
If you're stuck for inspiration and you need a rhythmic drum part that's just a little bit different, you could do worse than clean your keyboard!
The party trick described here really works, so don't dismiss it as the ravings of a lunatic until you've tried it. Then you can dismiss it as the ravings of a lunatic! If you have a sequencer that can create loops, ideally different length loops for each track, a MIDI drum sound module and a MIDI keyboard, all you need is a duster and you're in business. Just follow the instructions and don't judge until you've heard the result!
1. Set the sequencer track number to that of the MIDI sound module and set the quantise value to 16. Start the sequencer recording.
2. Before the count-in has finished, use the duster to clean (vigorously) about an octave of the keyboard, ideally in an area where there are some nice toms or latin percussion sounds.
3. Set the loop length to 1, 2 or 4 bars. If the sequencer has a 'check duplicated notes' function, use this to clean up the recording, and if you've gone over the top, use something like overlap correction or extract top/bottom musical line to ensure that only one sound is playing at a time.
4. Repeat the exercise on a new track using an area of the keyboard where there's a good kick drum or some very low toms. Quantise this to 8 or even 4, and use a shorter loop of 1, 2 or 4 beats. This will provide a more regular beat to underpin the mayhem of track 1. Clean up as appropriate.
5. Make up another two or three tracks in the same way, choosing different loop lengths and quantise values. Setting a quantise value of 24 for one of the tracks (ideally one that isn't too busy) can provide a nice triplet feel.
6. Try muting some of the parts and see which ones work best together. If you need to merge tracks to save space, you'll need to do some copying and pasting because you can't merge loops of different lengths. You can also try transposing some of the tracks to hear the result with different drum sounds.
The above process might seem very random, but because the quantise value and loop lengths can be controlled, the end result is nearly always rhythmic, and there's no reason not to combine this quasi-random approach with structured programming — for example, to add variety to the percussion sitting on top of a back beat.
The ability of sequencers to program mute information opens up many creative possibilities; add variety or dynamics by allowing new tracks to join the mix after the first verse or two, create an intro by using some of the tracks from the verse or chorus, experiment with different permutations of tracks to see what arrangement works best... If you don't normally use mutes, give it a try, but be aware of one potential pitfall. Muting a sequencer track mutes all the MIDI data, not just the notes!
When I first started using sequencers, I made the mistake of trying to include mute and unmute data in the same track as the note data, and spent ages wondering why the track would mute perfectly but would never unmute again. If you think about it, how could it? I'd muted the very track that contained the data telling it to unmute — the sequencer never saw the unmute command!
The correct procedure will be obvious to anyone who actually reads their manual properly; mute data should always be put on a separate sequencer track, and that track should never itself be muted. In programs such as E-magic's Creator and Notator, the easiest way to input mute data is to set a spare track to record and then click the track mute buttons on and off as desired. If this has to be done in several passes, two or more tracks of mute data can be merged in the usual way. Finally, though most modern sequencers are pretty good about checking that every Note On has a corresponding Note Off, try not to place a mute command between a Note On and its Note Off, as you might just find yourself with a stuck note.
Feature by Paul White
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